Thank You, Lesley Nneka Arimah

This winter, I discovered I can hold a paperback book open in two hands and read it while walking on my treadmill at 3 mph. Podcasts (and audiobooks) are good ways to neutralize the boredom of walking on a looped conveyer belt in a boring basement, but I love the printed page and am always wishing for more time to read. Reading while exercising feels like the epitome of multitasking.

Among the titles that got me through the dark months were ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr, STILL TRUE, by Maggie Ginsberg, and THE KEEPER by Kelcey Ervick. All three were excellent, but I generally pushed the STOP button when the treadmill timer hit the thirty minute mark. (“Let me outta this basement!”)

Then I cracked open WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY, a collection of short stories by Lesley Nneka Arimah.

I met Lesley in person three years ago, when she was a presenting author at the 2021 Washington Island Literary Festival. I serve on the lit fest committee, and was lucky enough to sit next to her at the Friday night welcome dinner. As an unpublished novelist, I am shy around successful young writers like Lesley, but she was super nice to me, even though I’m old enough to be her grandma.

Her generosity—toward me, and everyone—made me an instant fan. Her presentation Saturday, during which she read an excerpt from her collection, made me a fan of her writing. I purchased WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY on the spot from Deb Wayman, proprietor of Fair Isle Books, Washington Island’s fantastic, tiny independent book shop, and Lesley autographed the title page for me.

(An aside: avid readers will understand why WHAT IT MEANS remained unopened for so long. Our to-read shelf is always piled high.)

As I walked, reading Lesley’s stories, I’d be deep into one, glance up at the timer, and find I had gone way past thirty minutes. For a week, each afternoon, instead of saying to myself, “I guess I’d better get down to the basement,” I thought, “Oh yay, more Lesley.”

In, “Wild,” one of my favorite stories (they are all my favorites), a misbehaving American-Nigerian teenager is sent by her at-wit’s-end mother to spend the summer in Lagos with her aunt and (also teenaged) cousin. Arimah’s blade-sharp prose shows us the gulf of disparity in the two mother-daughter relationships at the same time the protagonist is discovering it herself. Along the way, we get snapshots of social norms within educated Nigerian society.

NPR praised Arimah this way: “She crafts stories that reward rereading, not because they’re unclear or confusing, but because it’s so tempting to revisit each exquisite sentence, each uniquely beautiful description.”

Forty-something Lesley was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria, among other locations. She lives in Minneapolis, and according to her website, “is working on a novel about you.” I hope it’s in print soon!


Leslie’s autograph (and illustration of a man falling) on the title page of her collection

4 Responses

  1. Judy Dayhoff
    | Reply

    Marianne, you will be the death of me. My “want to read” stack of books is frustrating. I won’t live long enough to read everything I want including this and Ramona.

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Haha, and I’m into another good read right now. Stay tuned!

  2. Luana
    | Reply

    Ok, I had to look her up after I read this blog post. I found this engaging interview. About halfway through she says she recently learned to sew! But then, you knew she was a budding seamstress, right?

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Luana, I think I did know that, but forgot until you mentioned it. The dress she wore to the author dinner was a bold African print, and I think she said she had made it herself!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *